Biography of Costello, John (Mac Coisdealbha, Seán) - Archontology
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Costello, John (Mac Coisdealbha, Seán)

Seán A. Mac Coisdealbha = John Aloysius Costello

b. 20 Jun 1891, Dublin
d. 5 Jan 1976, Dublin

Title: Taoiseach
Term: 18 Feb 1948 - 13 Jun 1951
Chronology: 18 Feb 1948, nominated by the 13th Dáil Éireann; appointed by the President of Ireland [1]
13 Jun 1951, successor appointed [1]
Term: 2 Jun 1954 - 20 Mar 1957
Chronology: 2 Jun 1954, nominated by the 15th Dáil Éireann; appointed by the President of Ireland [1]
20 Mar 1957, successor appointed [1]

John Costello was educated at O'Connell School and University College, Dublin, graduating in modern languages and law. After studying at the King's Inns, he was called to the bar in 1914. He joined the Attorney-General staff in 1922. Costello became Attorney-General (9 Jan 1926 - 9 Mar 1932) and represented the government at Imperial Conferences and League of Nations. He was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1933 from the Fine Gael party. In February 1948 he was asked to become Taoiseach of an inter-party Government as the one person who could unite the diverse political elements involved. This first coalition under him saw two significant and controversial events: the declaration of a republic and the 'Mother and Child' health scheme, which later led to the break-up of the Government. The declaration that the state was a republic and that the External Relations Act would be repealed was made by Costello at a press conference in Canada on 7 Sep 1948, and the Republic of Ireland was formally inaugurated on 18 Apr 1949. The 'Mother and Child' scheme was strongly opposed by the Catholic hierarchy and the Baltinglass Post Office affair (Dec 1950) cost the Government the support of independent deputies. A dispute with the farming community over the price of milk was another of the apparently unrelated incidents that led Costello to seek a dissolution of the Dáil in May 1951. After the General Election of June 1951 Fianna Fáil formed a Government, although not having a majority. In the next General Election, in May 1954, Fianna Fáil was defeated and Costello again headed a coalition Government. With a comfortable majority, it seemed set for the full term, but an outbreak of militant republican activity in Northern Ireland and Britain caused internal strains. The Government took strong action against the republicans. Seán MacBride, the leader of Clann na Poblachta, tabled a motion of no confidence, based on the weakening state of the economy; then Fianna Fáil tabled its own motion of no confidence, and, rather than face almost certain defeat, Costello again asked the President to dissolve the Dáil and Seanad. In the general election of March 1957 Eamon de Valera won a record number of seats, and Fianna Fáil took office again. Costello returned to the bar and was involved in law practice until his death in 1976. Biography source: [2]

Date Candidate Yes No
18 Feb 1948 John Costello 75 68
13 Jun 1951 John Costello (failed) 72 74
2 Jun 1954 John Costello 79 66

[1] Dáil Éireann Debates
[2] "A Dictionary of Irish Biography", ed. by Henry Boylan (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1998).
Image: photograph, 17 Mar 1954.